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SF supervisors select Mark Farrell as interim mayor to replace London Breed

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Interim Mayor Mark Farrell was sworn into office Tuesday night with his family by his side. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

In a somewhat unexpected move, San Francisco has a new mayor: Mark Farrell.

The District 2 supervisor became interim mayor Tuesday, knocking from the post Acting Mayor and Board of Supervisors President London Breed. Breed had assumed the role, per the City Charter, after Mayor Ed Lee died unexpectedly on Dec. 12.

Under the charter, the board has the power to name an interim mayor with at least six votes from the Board of Supervisors, and some were left feeling “astonished” that the power was wielded in that way.

Farrell, a more moderate board member, picked up support from both sides of the aisle. Rumors of such a possibility had floated around City Hall for weeks.

The board voted 6-3 for Farrell to replace Breed. Supervisors Ahsha Safai, Katy Tang and Malia Cohen opposed it. Farrell and Breed, who were both nominated as interim mayor, were absent from the deciding vote. Breed wasn’t able to secure the six votes needed.

Before nominating Farrell, Supervisor Norman Yee said he wanted an interim mayor who wasn’t also running for the permanent seat — the deadline to file for the race was Jan. 9 — and stressed the importance of preserving the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. He said adopting a two-year city budget is among biggest issues facing The City in the next few months and said Farrell is well-equipped to handle it. Farrell served as chair of the budget committee for four years.

Members of the black community, who turned out to support Breed, made their opposition to the decision known and forced the meeting into a temporary recess.

Fred Jordan, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, told the San Francisco Examiner that the decision “is disrespect to the black community.”

“They don’t care. I’m totally astonished,” Jordan said.

The board later confirmed its initial vote in a 8-2 vote with supervisors Breed and Cohen opposed. Farrell was absent for the vote.

Before the votes, Supervisor Hillary Ronen said Breed was supported by white billionaires, like tech investor Ron Conway, who has pushed policies that exacerbate the widening disparity of wealth in San Francisco. She said The City “is quickly becoming a city where only the ultra-elite can prosper.”

“This change for the worse didn’t happen by accident. Behind the last mayoral administration and one before that, there were the same tech moguls and the real estate billionaires, who make money off of our staggerly high rents in this city,” Ronen said. “We need to turn our city upside down.”

Conway had thrown his support behind Breed, as had former Mayor Willie Brown.

After the vote, Breed said she remained committed to her mayoral campaign.

“If you want to be part of a campaign that is going to make a difference and change lives and not be hypocritical about who they help, then I will be your mayor,” Breed said to reporters.

Cohen told the Examiner she was surprised by the outcome and called Farrell a “sell-out,” suggesting him agreeing to accept the nomination was “selfish ambition.”

For Farrell, the position gives him name recognition to seek higher office. In becoming mayor, he vacates his District 2 seat on the board, which he was scheduled to term out of in January 2019. As mayor he can name who will fill the vacancy on the board.

“This is the greatest progressive fumble that I have seen in a long time,” Cohen said, invoking the words of former progressive Supervisor Chris Daly when he blasted the board in 2011 for appointing Lee as the “caretaker” mayor. At the time, Lee promised not to run for mayor, but later changed his mind.

“They have appointed a man who supports Tasers for the police officers, who has gone on the record to go against … transitional age housing projects in his district,” Cohen said.

Other mayoral candidates, like former state Sen. Mark Leno and Supervisor Jane Kim, previously told the Examiner a caretaker mayor was the right move.

“For the good of The City, there should be an open and fair election,” Leno said.

For weeks, there has been an ongoing debate at City Hall if Breed should remain in both roles until the June election — if she should be named interim mayor and give up her seat on the board or if someone who isn’t among the eight candidates who filed to run should be named interim mayor.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has endorsed Leno, called on the board earlier this month to have the vote and acknowledged on Tuesday how the discussion is “a very painful conversation to have” given the divisions occurring along racial and gender lines, as Breed is a black woman. But Peskin said Breed shouldn’t remain in both positions, arguing the separation of powers “is remarkably important” and that having an acting mayor “was never contemplated to last for a long period of time.”

Some residents brought signs to the meeting that read: “Let the voters decide. Appoint a caretaker.”

Shannon Malloy, a member of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said the board should appoint someone who isn’t a candidate. “People vote primarily on name recognition,” she said, noting Breed’s possible advantage. “Create a level playing field and let people decide at the ballot box.”

Malloy added, “This is not about race, nor gender. It is about policy. It is not about symbolic representation. I am concerned about the particular politics of this particular woman of color. I am concerned about the separation of powers.”

With his family at his side, Farrell was sworn into the post at about 9 p.m. by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

“I assume this role with great pride and humility,” Farrell said to reporters gathered afterward. “The most important concern for me is the continuity of the government.”

Asked to comment on the emotional reaction to Breed being ousted, Farrell said, “I will work to represent every single San Francisco resident.”

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